Cultivating a working environment that employees want to go to is a key factor in enhancing performance, writes Synergy Group property strategist Stephen Oxford.
Flexible conditions afforded by COVID-19 have allowed many APS staff to experience the freedoms of working from home – resulting in more productive and focused work, and empowering employees to achieve balance and wellbeing.
Yet this new-found appreciation of the value of a flexible approach to working is at risk of being lost as APS staff head back to the structure of a traditional workday, and into offices that don’t always provide the diversity of spaces needed by APS staff.
Following the Prime Minister’s directive to support the economy by getting APS staff back into offices, Synergy’s property lead, Stephen Oxford, says it’s time for government agencies to create office environments that people can connect with and want to go back to.
Returning to the office a choice
The year 2020 has proven that government programs and services can continue – and thrive – even with the majority of the APS out of the office.
“APS staff have experienced greater freedom and have been given autonomy and trust, and they’ve proven they can still deliver their important work,” Stephen reflects.
Research backs this up, with a UNSW study reporting that nearly two-thirds of employees felt that they got more work done at home compared to being at the office.
“You want your people to return to work by choice – not only because the office provides them with the best facilities and tools to deliver their work, but also because they associate positively with the environment as a place that enables both professional and social connections.”
“My conversations with many public servants suggest some resentment at being directed to return to the office,” says Stephen. “Many believe that the flexibility to work from home has led to more efficient work practices as well as improved work–life balance. They fear that this will now be lost in returning to a more regimented nine-to-five role in an office space that isn’t providing them the spaces that they need to concentrate on tasks.
“Now, more than ever, property teams and workforce planners need to look at why people come into the office. It’s different for each person – perhaps it’s not to do focused work (though that may be the case for those with kids at home!), but to collaborate and socially connect.”
That’s why offices need to be designed to respond to these needs. It may not necessarily be a sea of workstations that’s required, but a greater diversity of space, with areas that facilitate social connectivity and delivery of work in teams.
“You want your people to return to work by choice – not only because the office provides them with the best facilities and tools to deliver their work, but also because they associate positively with the environment as a place that enables both professional and social connections.
“It would be a shame if we walk away from this year where the APS has shown it can work remotely, without learning from the workforce experiences.”
A balance of benefits
Synergy’s creativeXpeople explored the problem when given the brief to ‘convince Australians to never go back to the office‘ on ABC’s Gruen. While this idea pushes the issue to the extreme, there’s benefit in exploring what life can look like outside of the traditional working model.
Making an office environment one where staff are excited to return, where they feel welcomed, and where they have the flexibility to come and go, is the balance government agencies should be striving for.
To achieve this, Stephen recommends bringing together workforce planning and property planning teams to develop a clear idea of what staff need and want in their workplace environment.
These conversations should capture both functional needs as well as the aesthetic and creative elements that can lead to an emotional connection with a space.
“This is the first time in our history that the public sector has successfully shifted to remote working en masse,” says Stephen. “It has shown we can work differently, and that a desk in an open plan office is not the best option for every staff member. Not only should this lead to office design shifting to accommodate more team-based work, but it should also equate to less space being required. The bonus is that agencies can also save property footprint dollars as a by-product of knowing their property needs – now and into the future.”
For the team at Synergy, with its award-winning office design and functionality, the reaction to returning to work was a positive one. This was partly due to the fact that Synergy has always worked hard to make staff feel connected to the culture of the company, and invested in making the office space a place to motivate and unite.
The design brief for Synergy’s office fit-out, which recently won a Master Builders ACT Award, was to ‘create a very energetic and futuristic space to motivate the over 300 employees who occupy the space’.
“We have 140 desks for 350 staff with many different rooms and spaces,” explains Stephen. “There are a number of meeting rooms that are configured flexibly, so you can quickly adapt spaces to meet your needs, plus we have some really creative spaces, including our outdoor area where we often hold team update meetings and social functions.
“Our space is fun, vibrant, and welcoming, and the atmosphere in the office is just one of the great things about coming to work. Our workforce is engaged, optimistic and imaginative and this is reflected in our office space.
“It’s about making a workplace desirable for individuals. If you want to transform the public sector, you need to also transform the environment that the workforce is in every day.”
“If you want to transform the public sector, you need to also transform the environment that the workforce is in every day.”
About Synergy Group
Synergy Group are dynamic leaders for professional solutions in Government, offering a broad range of capabilities and services. Our dedicated Property Advisory Capability brings together unrivalled knowledge of Commonwealth property management with our commercial expertise and market experience. Every day we help clients achieve optimal property outcomes to enhance individual, team and organisational performance.
Our advice has led to over $1 billion in savings for the federal government, and our team regularly finds efficiencies of over 30% of property operating costs for entities. Our experts bring leading practice from across jurisdictions and the corporate sector to our government clients, to unlock the potential of their property portfolios and facilitate the transition to modern, technology enabled workplaces for the public sector.
If you are looking for strategic advice for your property portfolio, contact us today.